Fairies grow their wings when they turn fourteen. Similar to humans, the female fairies develop first. This helps them establish a dominant role in choosing a mate. Male fairies don’t develop their wings until they turn eighteen. A female fairy usually chooses a mate that has no wings, but whose maturity and intellect impress the female. This usually happens when both male and female fairies are sixteen or seventeen. The female fairy chooses her mate and flies away with him to settle on their own branch.
Elise started growing her first wing when she was thirteen. She was the first girl in her forest to grow a wing. But the second wing never grew.
“Mother,” she cried, “when is the second wing going to come?”
“I don’t know, Elise,” her mother answered. “You’re fifteen, I don’t know if it is going to come.”
“But all the other girls can fly already. They avoid me now. I can hear them talking about me in the other trees. They make… jokes.”
Elise’s mother paid close attention.
“What kind of jokes?” her mother asked.
“They say that I’m going to have to be carried away by one of the boys. Another girl said that I should be more careful when I’m gathering food. She said it’d be a shame if I fell and couldn’t fly back up.”
“Well, those girls aren’t your friends.”
“I don’t have any friends! I wish a human would come along and pluck this stupid wing off of me. At least then I’d be symmetrical!”
“What does that even mean, Elise?”
“I’ve heard the humans talk about it when they’re cutting down a lot of trees. If something is on one side of something, it should be on the other side too. Like, if a tree only grows branches on one side, it’s not symmetrical. I only have one wing, so I’m asymmetrical.”
“Well, what do humans know about fairy wings?”
“But didn’t some of the humans used to be fairies?”
This was a common misconception among younger fairies. Many younger fairies thought that wingless fairies simply fell from the trees and transformed into humans. But that wasn’t the case at all. The fairies that fell from the trees suffered a long and miserable existence until they began giving birth to slightly larger fairies. As these larger fairies began relying on larger food, naturally, the fairies grew bigger. Eventually they didn’t even need to hide from humans anymore. They blended in slowly over many fairy generations. But Elise’s mother didn’t buy into any of that.
“That’s not at all what happened,” her mother said. “Everyone that fell died. And they died because they didn’t have wings. Humans were always around. That’s just something that everyone, a long time ago might I add, told themselves when their beloved children didn’t grow wings and tried to fly anyway. They feel better about themselves for believing in it. But it didn’t happen.”
“Then what am I supposed to do about my wing, Mom? What if I have a daughter and she doesn’t grow any wings? Not even one. And even that’s unlikely because I’ll never be able to fly. I’ll never be able to choose a partner. I’ll never have my own branch. And I’ll definitely never have my own tree. But what if, on the off chance that I do have a child, what happens then? What if they have no wings?”
“Then your children will die. Be happy you have one wing,” her mother said. “Your grandmother on your father’s side gave birth to a daughter with one wing. You never met her because she’s dead. She fell and she died. Be happy you’ve lasted as long as you have. I swear your generation is so ungrateful. We have systems set up to support you now. There are nets and swings and pulleys. We didn’t have any of those things in my day.”
Elise’s face was drenched.
“What do you mean I had an aunt that only grew one wing? Why didn’t you tell me?” Elise cried.
“That has nothing to do with your situation,” her mother said. “And besides, she died a long time ago. Be thankful you haven’t.”
Elise stormed out from the trunk of the giant redwood tree and out onto a long slender branch. There was no way for her mother to understand just how hard it was to be born with a missing wing. And the worst part was that Elise wasn’t entirely missing her other wing. In between her shoulder blades was one fully-grown beautiful wing and one small nub where there should have been another. To Elise, the worst part about not having two wings was the fact that her missing wing had actually tried to grow.